The pres­sure is on

With not long to go be­fore Yeat Wood Farm’s first shoot day, Andy Gray has been busy con­trol­ling foxes and dog­ging-in

Sporting Gun - - Contents - Novem­ber 2018

With just over a month to go be­fore Yeat Wood Farm’s first shoot day, things on the duck front have been pro­gress­ing far bet­ter than keeper Andy Gray would have thought pos­si­ble. This is the first time he has reared duck for shoot­ing and it has been a steep learn­ing curve for him. How­ever, the gamekeeping com­mu­nity has been most help­ful, es­pe­cially with re­gards to ‘train­ing’ the ducks away from the ponds. Reg­u­lar read­ers will re­call that, last month, the sixweek- old ducks were put out on the ponds and Andy had been con­di­tion­ing them to come to a whis­tle at feed­ing time. This tac­tic has worked re­ally well.

He is only feed­ing the ducks once a day be­cause it is easy to over-feed and then end

up with fat, lazy ducks that are reluc­tant to fly and just lift off the ponds and then drop straight back in. Good driven ducks can make a chal­leng­ing tar­get if worked right, es­pe­cially with a bit of wind up their tails. Andy had pre­vi­ously worked out where he needed to get the ducks and over the past few weeks he has been grad­u­ally feed­ing them fur­ther and fur­ther away from the ponds.

Ducks have a cu­ri­ous habit of walk­ing out to feed and fly­ing back to the pond, so logic dic­tates the fur­ther they have to fly back home, the stronger they will get and, ul­ti­mately, that is what is needed come shoot day.

Fox dam­age

A cou­ple of weeks ago the wheat was cut and the stub­ble is go­ing to be left over win­ter for the par­tridge when they ar­rive. The ducks are al­ready en­joy­ing clear­ing up the spilt grain and it has also meant that Andy can now get on top of the lo­cal fox pop­u­la­tion.

Ear­lier in the month the shoot ex­pe­ri­enced some strong winds overnight and Char­lie took full ad­van­tage. Andy lost around 20 pheas­ant poults — the big­gest loss since the birds ar­rived. Once the corn had been cut it was eas­ier to get out at night with the lamp and in just 10 days he ac­counted for four foxes and has seen at least an­other cou­ple skulk­ing about.

There is still quite a lot of cat­tle feed maize grow­ing on the farm as well as the maize cover crop and this still gives any prowl­ing fox plenty of cover. But as the pheas­ants start to wan­der out from the re­lease pens, it is even more im­por­tant to keep on top of the pest species, es­pe­cially as the first batch of par­tridge are due in any day.

Dog­ging-in

Most of Andy’s time is spent dog­ging-in, a reg­u­lar part of any game­keeper’s day-to-day work at this time of the year, but on a small shoot such as Yeat Wood Farm it is vi­tal. The land is sur­rounded by a cou­ple of other shoots and on one par­tic­u­lar bound­ary by a ‘non-shoot­ing neigh­bour’. The pheas­ants seem to know that there is some kind of sanc­tu­ary on that side of the ground, so they have to be con­stantly en­cour­aged away from that part of the shoot. Dog­ging-in also en­cour­ages the birds to fly, es­pe­cially when pres­sured by a dog.

As the aim is to push them into the coverts or back to­wards the pens, they are be­ing con­di­tioned, much like the ducks, to go where they are needed ready for a shoot day.

A game­keeper needs a good team of dogs at this time of the year and, as well as his five spaniels, Andy has Ri­ley the cock­er­poo. Though she might seem an unortho­dox gun­dog, she has spent the past cou­ple of sea­sons pick­ing-up and is now prov­ing to be a use­ful dog­ging-in dog.

Ide­ally, you don’t want a hard-go­ing dog as it is all too easy for the poults to

The ducks have de­vel­oped a habit of walk­ing out to feed then fly­ing back to the pond

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